Jo is an impressive woman, with an impressive story.
Jo is a proud mother, a loving partner, an empathetic leader, and a go-getter who some would say travels faster than the speed of sound.
For two years she held a pivotal role within Lifewise, where she assumed the crucial responsibility of overseeing the Peer Support Workers. After a brief hiatus, she returned to Lifewise taking a seat at the Senior Leadership Team table as the Service Manager for Merge.
Jo is a fully registered DPAANZ Provisional Drug and Alcohol Practitioner, holds as NZQA Level 4 Certificate in Health and Wellbeing (Peer Support), a Diploma in Applied Addiction Counselling, and is working towards a Postgraduate Certificate in Health Science (Mental Health and Addictions).
One day she hopes to be a Clinical Manager at the Alcohol and Other Addictions (AOD) Court so she can help others walking the path she’s travelled.
This is her story, and it can happen to anyone.
Jo’s early life was characterised by stability and familial solidarity. Yet, at the tender age of 16, her world was abruptly upended by the sudden departure of her father.
“I’d say I had a good life growing up, with a good family, then when I was 16, my dad walked out. I didn’t know where he went. I didn’t even know that there was a problem,” she said.
The repercussions of this emotional upheaval were profound, setting in motion a sequence of events that spiraled into a turbulent existence. Escalating from reckless truancy to substance abuse, Jo soon found herself ensnared by the clutches of addiction and the criminal hustle.
Jo spent the next 12 years stealing, gambling, hustling, basically doing anything to get the next hit. She perfected lying to her family and friends and got caught up in gangs.
Her descent continued, leading to multiple stints in prison. Each time she emerged, her addiction held her in its grip, leading her down a path of crime and self-destruction. She navigated the dangerous world of drug dealing, forming connections that both protected and endangered her.
"I was leading a double life... I was stealing cars and I’d see my parents, and they thought I was working in a car yard" - Jo
On Christmas Eve 2015, a near-fatal overdose shook her life into sobriety and change.
“The last time I used was 23 or 24 Dec 2015. I woke up in the hospital, after almost dying from an overdose. I didn’t want to go to prison again, but by this point, I had 160 known charges on my criminal record. I could only get bail through Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court.”
Jo applied and much to her surprise, the Judge said yes, and she went off to rehab.
“I think that external motivation from the courts started to change to intrinsic motivation. As I started to experience all the benefits of recovery, no chaos, no dramas, no people kicking in my door, I realised how valuable recovery was and decided to do whatever it took to stay clean” she said.
Guided by an inexorable drive to transmute her pain into purpose, she turned her life around.
Jo went back to a former rehabilitation clinic of hers because she wanted to support women on the same journey. She did this for a year before working at a private treatment facility as a Peer Support Worker.
Being a Peer Support Worker not only invigorated Jo’s personal recovery but also infused her existence with a newfound purpose.
“It was incredible supporting others coming out of prison, picking them up and taking them to treatment, supporting them on their journey. I remember visiting someone in prison, and the officers were like ‘Oh my gosh, what a change’.
Having peer support and being a peer support worker changed her life. There’s something about helping people through the chaos that I’ve experienced that grounded me in recovery.”
Jo loved being a Peer Support Worker but knew it was time for others to come through, and so her experience evolved into management and lived experience leadership.
Prior to being the Service Manager for Merge, Jo headed up the Peer Support Team at Lifewise, where she supported others to achieve their Level 4 Peer Support Worker Qualification. An experience she refers to as ‘very humbling’.
Having this qualification means that they can work alongside a person with similar significant health concerns and can support them to increase their autonomy, well-being, change, and self-determination. This is something that hits Jo close to home.
“I’ve seen one of my peer support workers go from needing help to being helpful. You can’t put a price on how valuable this is.”
But like any team, there are challenges with managing peer support workers – challenges that motivate her to do more, learn more, and be more.
“Many of my team have lived experience, some with secondary mental health struggles which are interesting for me because I come from purely an addictions background… I’ve got my lived experience, but I also want some understanding and education about addictions, so I’m studying to be an AOD practitioner.”
Reflecting on her journey, Jo is reminded of how far she has come.